Don Follis | I think Dad would have supported #MeToo campaign

Don Follis | I think Dad would have supported #MeToo campaign

My dad was an elder in the conservative church of my youth in northwestern Kansas. The elders were all men. However, most of the teaching in the church, except for the preaching on Sunday, was done by women. The most popular Sunday adult class was taught by a woman. Dad enjoyed her lessons, respecting her Biblical knowledge.

I think there were three main reasons that Dad never quite made his peace with the idea that women were not allowed to be church elders. The first came from what dad thought was a "strange" Bible passage in the New Testament book of I Timothy. In his instructions to his young disciple Timothy, the Apostle Paul says that women should learn quietly and submissively.

Dad was OK with that, as he actually thought everyone should be respectful to the one teaching, whether that be a man or a woman. But then the Apostle Paul gives his reason for a woman's submission — the creation order. "For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness and modesty." (I Timothy 2:13-15)

Whatever being saved through childbearing met — and Dad said he never really knew — he felt it had to be specific to the particular culture that Timothy served. He decided it was culturally, not universally mandated. Dad felt there was no way it could mean that women are somehow saved through childbirth as the text reads. Dad would then mention the single women missionaries that came to our church, showed their slides and talked about their ministry in far-flung places in the world. He made it known to us kids that he was impressed by the call, humility and commitment of single woman to serve selflessly, often on few resources.

But there was a second reason having no women elders bothered Dad. The tension hit him right between the eyes on Monday morning. He was a district manager in a company where his top assistants were women. He was impressed with their intelligence, savvy and work ethic. He said they were "smarter than I am by far. Hard workers. They make me look better than I really am." Dad's actions showed it. He asked their opinion. He deferred to them. One woman in particular could analyze difficult work situations quickly and give dad the best options, which he almost always followed.

The women had high regard for my Dad, too. At his funeral a few years back, one of his long-time female workers told me Dad was best man she ever worked with. "He always did what I said," she said laughing. Well, he did.

Finally, Dad showed respect for my mom. One time she took issue with a decision the church elders made. She expressed her views in a letter that she wanted my dad to hand deliver at an elder's meeting. He didn't want to and told her to let it go. But he changed his mind, delivered the letter, and stood up for mom in front of the other elders. The elders then wrote her a letter of appreciation and made most of the changes she wanted.

During my nearly 40 years in the ministry, I have watched the church wrestle with women leaders. While many mainline denominations have had women pastors for decades, in the last 25 years even more conservative churches are giving women both authority and prominence in their church roles. Locally, Dianne Leman, a senior pastor at the 2,500-member Vineyard Church of Central Illinois in Urbana, is one of the finest preachers you will ever hear — bar none.

Just a few months ago, Bill Hybels, the founder and highly regarded senior pastor at the 30,000-member Willow Creek Church in Chicago, announced his succession plan, saying that 42-year-old Heather Larson will be the next senior pastor at the church when Hybels steps downs later this year.

Priority, honor and character mattered to my Dad, even as he lived with the tension back in the day that women were not allowed to be elders, serving alongside him. As I've watched the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement gain momentum in the last year, I think that my Dad would have been supportive.

And yet, there remains an unfair double standard in high positions of authority in all sectors of society. Will the #MeToo movements keep momentum and get equal weight from all audiences, both inside and outside of the church? If we all do our part, I certainly hope so.

But let's be frank. Whatever your theological convictions of men and women in positions of church authority, if the men in government, the private sector and in churches act with impunity in their relationships with women, suffering few or no consequences for clear cases of sexual harassment, the silencing and defamation of women sadly will continue for the foreseeable future.

Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 35 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via Contact him at, and you can follow him on Twitter (@donfollis).

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